SYMPOSIA PAPER Published: 01 January 1973

Product Appearance as Communication


To those in the world of designed objects, most specifically industrial design, it soon becomes evident that the development of form, creation of appearance, and selection of materials, result in product communication. An inherent message always exists and it may be composed consciously or subconsciously; furthermore, it is received and understood without written or verbal intervention and is instantaneous with respect to the impression it evokes. Such responses are subjective but are similar in interpretation within a specific population. The meaning of the communicated product message can create immediate bias or almost unshakeable beliefs with respect to the product observed; frequently, to the extent that it can overshadow intellectual or rational considerations. Automotive design is a good example.

Where communication is negative, it can produce the familiar dichotomy expressed as the complaint, “I know it's good, but I just don't like it.” Rejection or acceptance, it would appear, has much to do with the visually-perceived qualities of the communication established between product and observer. In product design, such communicated attributes as credibility, convenience, prestige, value, usefulness, genuineness, and even masculinity or feminity are largely dependent upon a number of factors not the least of which is the characteristic appearance of materials used in the design context. The question is examined as to why man-made objects attract or repel. Some probable explanations are considered in this paper. These are believed to be correlations that exist between psychological and social factors as they are aesthetically expressed and visually perceived.

It appears likely that all products, as a result of their aesthetic properties, conditioned by visual associations and appearance of materials, influence subjective response in favorable or unfavorable ways. This indicates the presence of communication via a design language, the semantics of which requires more explicit definitions. The groundwork for a vocabulary is suggested, a method for appearance rating is proposed, and areas for future research are identified.

Author Information

Abend, CJ
SCM Corporation, Syracuse, N. Y.
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Developed by Committee: E18
Pages: 35–53
DOI: 10.1520/STP34757S
ISBN-EB: 978-0-8031-4633-4
ISBN-13: 978-0-8031-0564-5